I recently chopped down a tree the “old-fashioned way” — using an ax. It was certainly challenging and took longer, but it was such a different “experience” than my previous chainsaw-enabled tree-clearing efforts that I found myself considering the purchase of an ax. A quick search of Amazon, The Home Depot, and Lowes produced several options ranging from $27 to $49.
I then stumbled across The Hudson Bay Axe, a beautifully handcrafted piece of art that also happened to be a functioning ax. Offered by Best Made and priced at $298, this option was more than 10 times the price of the other axes I saw — yet the pictures alone made it seem like the “experience” of using this ax would be so much better than the other options.
Throughout the history of business, the change makers have always been the people with the creative vision. As humanity evolved through the ages, we moved from using rudimentary tools into an era of craftsmanship. Skilled carvers made handcrafted tools, and the better crafted your product was, the more you sold. During this time, art and business were closely tied. Eventually, the Industrial Revolution swept the planet, and mass production took the uniqueness out of products — casting aside the “art” that previously served as a key element of commerce. The focus shifted to quantity and price point rather than innovation and design.
But the pendulum is swinging back. The luxury market, including both goods and experiences, is predicted to grow by 5 percent this year. People are craving boutique, high-end goods and one-of-a-kind experiences. Art and business are better friends than ever, and if you’re not cultivating an artistic mindset in your company, you’re missing an incredible opportunity.
Apple and the pursuit of beauty
The prime example of an art-centric business is Apple. Steve Jobs was an artist in a technologist’s body. While everyone else was trying to make their computers faster and expand their functionality, Jobs was committed to aesthetics. He built machines that were beautiful, giving consumers the ability to include computers in their vision for a beautiful life.
“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough,” he once explained. “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”
It was Apple’s design that took the marketplace by storm. First, the artists fell in love with its beauty. Then, the entrepreneurs started embracing Apple in their businesses. Finally, this way of thinking got to the large corporations as well. By focusing so heavily on design, Apple created a commitment to art. When you buy an Apple product, you might subconsciously feel that because you bought this artfully designed tool, you’re going to create something beautiful with it.
Art is for every business
There isn’t a business on the planet today that wouldn’t be better if it were more artful. Where art and design were once reserved for only the wealthiest parts of society, we’re now seeing the democratization of art.
For example, you no longer need to subscribe to Architectural Digest or watch “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” to see the interiors of people’s homes — now you just flip on HGTV to see gorgeous design 24/7. On social media, everyone can see beauty from all over the world, and the prettier it looks, the higher the chance it will be shared, liked, or pinned.
Top businesses are catching on and investing significant amounts of time and money into art. Companies like Facebook and Adobe have set up creative residency programs, while others are hiring in-house designers or working with architects and interior designers to reshape their workspaces to be more visually inspiring.
In short, if you don’t have a conscious plan for building beauty into your work, you’re missing the point — and the profit.
How beauty pays dividends
There’s no mystery to it. Beautiful things sell better. They’re more eye-catching and more enjoyable to use, and they tap into consumers’ ideas of what they envision their lives being.
Take cell phones, for example. Why do people pay more for iPhones? Ask almost anyone why they chose an iPhone, and they’ll probably tell you they like the sleek, intuitive design. They’ll say they like the powerful camera, and the phone makes them a better photographer. Ask an Android user why they chose their phone, and they’ll likely speak to more utilitarian uses — they like that you can hack it and customize it and that it doesn’t have all the froufrou bells and whistles.
Both brands are good choices, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other — except when it comes to profits. Compare the profit margins for Apple versus other mobile phone brands, and you’ll see that Apple is earning about 83 percent of all profits in the smartphone market. That’s because it’s selling something much more powerful than a tool — it’s selling a lifestyle.
The concept applies to any kind of product you can think of. Hermès scarves might not be as warm as the scarf your mom knitted (in fact, they surely aren’t), but they’re not supposed to be — they’re supposed to be beautiful. In the ’90s, Callaway started offering custom-designed golf clubs at an affordable price, and the brand’s market share exploded. Why? Because everyone wanted this product that was previously available only to the affluent country club suite.
How to put art on the front line of your business
Implementing an artistic vision into your business doesn’t necessarily mean getting out colored pencils and paper and summoning the muse. It’s more about being open to an artistic mindset and developing design-focused practices that filter into your products and experiences.
Ready to get started? Here are three things you can do today to start building art into the way you do business:
1. Insert yourself into artistic scenarios
When you’re knee-deep in the weeds of your business, it can seem like the world is just a series of office buildings. But art is happening all around you — you just have to tap into it.
Start making art a bigger part of your business life by finding those opportunities in your local area. Take your employees to the art gallery down the street. Go to a college art show on your lunch break. You could invite local artists to come to your space and talk to you about their process or even set up a resident easel in your office where a young artist can work.
You’ll soon find that these experiences will spark conversations and questions that will get your team thinking in a more artistic way.
2. Study artists at work
Observing the way artists do things is a great way to start thinking with an artistic mindset in your own business.
Check out the fantastic docuseries “Abstract” on Netflix. Each episode follows a different artist and shows how he or she applies art to the world of commerce, examining everyone from car designers to comic artists to the guy who designed the Air Jordan. It’s a closer look at how art and business intertwine, and it’s inspiring to see how design impacts the entire culture around a product.
3. Talk about art with your employees
Artistic thinking can aid almost any part of running a business, whether it’s making an inspiring presentation to clients or re-envisioning your accounting system. That’s why it’s important to make talking about art a part of your everyday conversations with employees. Discuss more than just functionality and features; talk about the aesthetic of your products and how the design will impact customers’ lives.
Ultimately, art is about emotion. A beautiful product doesn’t sell simply because of all the rational reasons it’s better than another product. It sells because it touches something in consumers — whether it’s nostalgia, joy, admiration, lust, or mystery. Speak to this part of your customers, and you’ll capture their heart and their wallet.
I guess that’s why I now have a beautifully handcrafted ax hanging above my fireplace.
DISCLAIMER: This article expresses my own ideas and opinions. Any information I have shared are from sources that I believe to be reliable and accurate. I did not receive any financial compensation for writing this post, nor do I own any shares in any company I’ve mentioned. I encourage any reader to do their own diligent research first before making any investment decisions.
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